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2021 Seltos SX Turbo AWD Review – Another Hit From Kia

Kia is batting 1000 in its recent product introductions. Here why buyers will love the Seltos.

Can Kia do anything wrong? Not lately. Its Telluride three-row SUV/crossover is a smash hit. We’ve been looking forward to testing the all-new Seltos, and it has met our expectations in every way. Here is what we found in a week of testing.

Related Story: Mazda CX-30 Premium vs. Hyundai Kona Ultimate - Which Compact Crossover Is Right For you?

2021 Kia Seltos – What Is It? How Much Does It Cost?
The Seltos is a small, two-row crossover built in Korea by Kia. It resides in the Mazda CX-30 and Hyundai Kona segment. The Seltos would be well-suited to daily driver duties, as a commuter car, as a small family vehicle, and for those who like to explore back roads and country paths.

Seltos image courtesy of Kia

The Seltos is offered in five trims. The base trim with front wheel drive starts at around $23K. We tested the top-trim Seltos SX Turbo AWD at a price of $29,485 including destination fees.

Related: Is the Hyundai Kona Big Enough?

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD – How Is It Powered?
The Seltos SX Turbo AWD name gives away the secrets to decoding this powertrain. The Seltos has a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that produces an impressive 195 lb-ft of torque at just 1,500 RPM. That should mean a gutsy launch, but there is more to the story. The Seltos SX Turbo has a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). This transmission is intended to be a premium automatic that offers the benefits of a manual but with easier operation. The transmission is found in many Hyundai and Kia vehicles of this size and a bit larger, and some owners complain about its unusual feel. There are times when the transmission does not seem to propel the vehicle forward despite rising RPMs. It wasn’t just our tester’s transmission specifically that caused this sensation. We’ve felt it on other vehicles that we have tested. Kia even has a video in which it states, “When first accelerating away from a stop, you may experience a slight time lag during aggressive acceleration.” Kia offers a conventional geared automatic, but only on its bottom four trims and only with a weaker engine.

Our tester had the optional all-wheel drive system. We liked that it offered a “lock” button. Buttons like this prepare the vehicle for slippery conditions by engaging the system from a start, rather than waiting for wheels to slip. We challenged the Seltos to some powerline access roads and it shined. In combination with its Sport mode, the Seltos was a blast when the pavement ended.

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD – How Does It Drive?
If you are stepping out of a low compact sporty car the Seltos will feel a bit top-heavy. However, that sensation quickly fades once you have a few hours behind the wheel. So don’t let a quick test drive put you off this fun crossover. While there are better handling crossovers out there, notably the Mazda CX-30, the Seltos has a fun demeanor and can be a real hoot to “point and shoot” in Sport mode. Just don’t expect to be puling Gs on off ramps.

In suburban traffic, the Seltos is a great companion as you switch lanes and accelerate. The upright seating position and the slightly higher ride give you a confident view of the road and your surroundings. Broken up roads are no problem and ride comfort is typical for small crossovers this size.

The Seltos is particularly good on the highway. The lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control do a fine job of handling most of the highway duties, but you won’t let them. The Seltos is too much fun to drive yourself. The Seltos’ highway ride quality is better than the class average and we felt like Kia spent time refining this vehicle.

As we mentioned above, the Seltos SX Turbo AWD is also equipped with all-wheel drive and a respectable 7.3-inches of ground clearance. That combination took us pretty deep into the New England countryside and we spent a few hours on dirt roads and logging trails. The Seltos is not set up to be the off-road king of this segment, but do you really want it to be? That comes with tradeoffs in cost and handling most would not choose. This car will get you to and from your cabin in winter and take you skiing during any weather that the roads are open. What more can be asked of an affordable crossover? That it be fun! And the Seltos is.

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD – Infotainment, Interior, Features, Content
The Seltos has the Kia style of Spartan interior we love. It is set up to be functional and at the same kind cool and modern. We think Kia nailed the styling inside and out. One thing we felt was a segment-best was driver knee space. I’m a taller person and my right knee usually rubs the center console in crossovers. Even larger ones like the Subaru Forester. Yet, in the Seltos I had more than enough room to stretch out and never felt confined.

The Kia team put everything in the perfect place ergonomically. For example, the heated seats are a big button you can press with gloves on. This, rather than hidden in the infotainment screen someplace. Speaking of infotainment, Kia’s Seltos has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but you have to plug in to make it work. The big 10.25-inch touch screen works well. It was our first time using this new Kia generation of infotainment, yet it took us less time to figure out how everything worked than usual. We liked the steering wheel controls and the in-dash menus as well. We used voice commands to operate Google Maps while using Pandora on the audio system. This is an easy vehicle to make work for you.

What’s missing that you can get on other vehicles in this segment? A heated steering wheel, a head-up display, adaptive headlights, and a two-stage off-road traction system. If Kia offered those all in one package and the total cost was $35K, would you be interested? There is no right answer. We feel Kia included what it needed to in order to come in under $30K. We can’t quibble with that call.

One thing the Seltos does have is a compact spare tire on every trim. You won’t find that in a Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD, or pretty much any premium crossover, which is why we can’t recommend those.

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD – Conclusion
Given Kia’s impressive reliability and durability scores and its best-in-the-industry 5-year, 60K new car warranty coupled with a 10-year/100K powertrain warranty for original owners, the Seltos is a vehicle we would not hesitate to recommend to friends and family. The Seltos would make a fantastic vehicle for many differing types of people. It would make a great small family vehicle, and a superb all-weather commuter “car.” With a few accessories, it would also be a great outdoor enthusiast’s utility vehicle. Kia is one of the last automakers to launch a vehicle in this rapidly-growing segment. It is clear from our testing that the Kia team did their homework. Shoppers looking for a well-rounded small crossover would do well to start their search with a 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. Following his engineering program, John also completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin